When it comes to English actors, Laurence Olivier is one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry to have ever worked on stage, film and television.
Born on 22 May 1907 in Dorking, Surrey, Olivier quickly established himself as being THE actor to work with. Amongst his contemporaries, the talents of Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud are included.
If anything, despite there being many talented British thespians working during the mid-20th century, Olivier dominated the boards.
Even though the actor’s first love was theatre, Olivier also worked in films throughout his career. During his film career, the Dorking born actor appeared in more than fifty cinematic roles. He even found considerable success in television roles.
There is little doubt Olivier worked hard perfecting his craft. After attending a London drama school, during the mid-t-late 1920s, he was seen performing in a succession of acting jobs.
With a firm grounded acting style under his belt, in 1930, Olivier was cast in his first prominent West End production. It was Noël Coward’s “Private Lives.”
Virtually every well-known thespian has worked on a production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Despite this point, the most celebrated theatrical production of this play was performed in 1935. This staging saw Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Olivier work together in their first serious play together. By the beginning of the 1940s, Olivier was considered an established star.
“Romeo and Juliet” was not the only Shakespeare play Olivier worked on during his theatrical career. When Olivier was the co-director of the Old Vic, he appeared in a production of “Richard III” and “Sophocles’s Oedipus.” The work Olivier did in these productions is considered some of his best. The performances are celebrated significantly.
Even though Olivier had established himself as one of the best thespians to ever tread the boards, during the early-to-mid 1950s, his stage career declined. This decline continued until 1957 when he joined the avant garde English Stage Company. He joined the company so that he could play the title role in “The Entertainer,” a part he later played on film.
Olivier’s contribution to British theatre cannot be understated. For ten years, from 1963, he was the founding director of the National Theatre. It should not surprise anyone, with a resident company of actors, the National Theatre fostered many future stars.
When at the National Theatre, Olivier’s own parts included the title role in the 1964 production of “Othello” and Shylock in the 1970 production of “The Merchant of Venice.”
The National Theatre’s largest auditorium is named in his honour, and he is commemorated in the Laurence Olivier Awards, given annually by the Society of London Theatre.
With Olivier’s experience playing Shakespearian roles for theatre, it was natural for the thespian to appear in film adaptations of the plays. He was actor-director for “Henry V” (1944), “Hamlet” (1948), and “Richard III” (1955).
In addition to the Shakespeare film adaptations, we should not forget the actor appeared in both “Wuthering Heights” (1939) and “Rebecca” (1940). His later films included “Sleuth” (1972), “Marathon Man” (1976) and “The Boys from Brazil” (1978).
After being ill for the last twenty-two years of his life, Olivier died of renal failure on 11 July 1989 aged 82 at his home near Steyning, West Sussex.